It’s been years since your crazy extended family members have all gathered together, so you are delighted (and a little surprised) when your grouchy Grandma Jo calls from Ohio to ask if you’d like to help her put together a reunion.
“In Cleveland?” you ask.
“I’m not getting any younger,” she snorts. “How about Kauai?”
How about it, indeed.
“And for pete’s sakes,” she yells, “let’s make it fun!”
You agree on Koloa Landing Resort because with its sunny South Shore location, tons of amenities and the “Best Pool in America” it is most definitely fun. Also, its oversized villas can accommodate multiple families which makes it even more fun — and a nice cost savings, too.
You soon discover that planning a family reunion is akin to planning a wedding: Many moving parts, travel schedules, creative brainstorming, and of course, varying ages, budgets and personalities. You consider everyone from Grandma Jo down to your tiny twin nephews. You enlist your techy-teen daughter to design a website for the reunion where all can sign up for jobs, weigh in on choices and get updates.
You breathe a sigh of relief when the event not only comes together in Kauai but also ends up being one of the most memorable times ever for your extended family. At a festive and loud dinner under the tiki torches one night, Grandma Jo hits you on the shoulder and shouts, “Well done!”
So just how do you make your family reunion so unforgettably fun?
1. Break the ice
Start with a game that gets everyone mingling right off the bat. Kind of like speed dating, throw a happy hour “round robin” with tables of four filled with hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and fruit drinks. At each seat is a card with a different question such as “What’s been the best new change in your life?” or “What are you looking forward to most this year?” Each of the four table mates answers their seat’s card for the others. Who knew Uncle Elliott is now recording voice-overs for TV commercials? Or that cousin Milana plans to trek across Alaska this summer? After 15-20 minutes, everyone grabs their drink and moves to another table with new family members and new questions.
Tip: Create a festive signature drink or cocktail that is a play on your family’s name or background. (e.g. Johnson Jungle Juice or an Irish Iced Tea . . . or maybe a Pittsburg Colada?) Post the recipe on your reunion website.
2. Be game
Create a “Family Olympics” on the resort lawn or at the beach. Light a ceremonial tiki torch and let the littlest cousin announce, “Let the games begin!” Include a water balloon toss, coconut bowling, pineapple stacking or any other relay games that work well for all ages. Mix up families to make the teams and keep a leaderboard of points. The top-scoring team gets a prize — or at least the joy of bragging rights.
3. Oh, baby
Ask each family member to bring (or send digitally) a baby photo. Number the photos, pin them to a corkboard and invite everyone to play Guess Who’s Who. Provide note paper and pencils and see who can correctly identify the most folks. (How is it possible that Uncle Mortimer was the cutest baby?)
4. When in Rome . . .
Request the resort’s concierge team set up a lei-making happy hour for all. Gather in the lobby-with-a-view, in the ballroom or out on the lawn. Then bring in a hired hula instructor to teach you all a few new moves to some classic Hawaiian tunes. Try not to laugh when Uncle George dances in his new lei and grass skirt paired with his black socks and Birkenstocks.
5. Capture the action
Put one or two family members in charge of recording all the memorable moments of your reunion on video. Interview aunties about family lore, uncles to recount embarrassing stories or just randomly record comments from the peanut gallery. Edit and post the video on your reunion website for all to enjoy.
6. Adventure together
Book in advance an exotic adventure or three! Ziplining is always fun — but ziplining with 30 of your favorite people is unforgettable.
7. Talent show
Why has no one ever told you that Grandma Jo was a cheerleader? Or that Uncle Fritz and Aunt Becky could tango like that? And how about the Ramones song your little cousin Tyler just banged out on the ukulele? Create a talent show under the stars and discover a lot about your family’s often-hidden talents.
8. Snap it
Invite your entire gang to gather at the beach or in front of one of the resort’s waterfalls for a fabulous group photo — preferably under the famous Kauai sunset. Share this and other photos of the event on social media with a unique hashtag (#TheKleinsDoKauai or #TheLeesAtTheLanding) or simply upload them to your website. Consider printing a photo book keepsake for each family — even for those who couldn’t make it.
9. Get traditional
After the last Mai Tai is drained and the final song is sung, ask your family to choose their favorite part of the reunion. Weigh their answers and pick the most-loved activity, then turn it into a family reunion tradition. Repeat the activity so all will continue to look forward to it for years to come. You actually receive one vote for Uncle George’s hula performance.
Has it been too long since you’ve gathered with your gang? Koloa Landing Resort is ready to host your most memorable reunion yet. You bring the kooky cousins and we’ll help create the fun.
— Erica Karlin, Koloa Landing Resort